Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reentering the Work

Life has a way of interfering with the execution of art (I am using the word in the broad sense of all artistic activity). Blame the cut-throat nature of the artistic world, or perhaps the fact that the gap between poor artists and rich artists is much larger than for any other section of society. Either way, this nasty thing called needing to earn a living and the other mundane things like taking out the trash and cooking dinner (and driving around the kids!) take out a big slice of time.

These nasty things really put a dent in the working flow. Like most writers I find it pretty hard to tune back into the work. Ideally I would like to write for a minimum two hour block each day. That's about how long it takes me to tune into the story, the characters, chip through the usual layer of ice and start to get the words flowing again.

Life is a little like torture at the moment. I just get started, just break through into the story and I have to stop and help with the groceries, or run for the bus, feed the llamas etc. The worse thing is when you are forced away from the work for a number days.

Getting back in can be a real challenge.

My way back in is always through the story itself - in the flow of the plot - and through the characters. If the break has really been a long one, I might have to first review the plot and do some thinking about the characters then start re-drafting from a few chapters back, or even from the beginning to get back into the feel of the piece and understand at a gut level where I had been coming from.

How do you navigate your way back into your story when life gets in the way? Or can you pick up the threads easily?

Open Thread

Don't ask. Just don't.

The usual rules apply: no politics, no hitting, and have fun.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hey, Writer, if That’s Your Real Name

So, you’re out there and you’re frowning at my blog – yeah, I can see you. You didn’t know that monitor was two way and powered with narrativium? – and going “okay, Sarah, what’s with all the different series and different names? I know that notorious criminals and people with multiple personality disorder use different names, but why you? And what’s with all the series? And, by the way, when are you going to update your website, so I don’t have to stumble around in the dark looking for your series in order?”

I’ll start with the last question first: renovations are ongoing. Only I’ve come to the conclusion I need a complete redesign. So, I’m building another site, from scratch, in the “invisible pages” of the site, and keeping it there until I can bring it all on line with a bang. Also, hopefully with a forum, which hopefully will have chat but no bangs, unless it’s New Years or something.

Now the series. Well... I didn’t set out to write multiple series. Heck, I didn’t set out to write multiple genres. I started out to write science fiction. To be exact, I was going to write space opera and maybe some historical, high brow, incredibly involuted fantasy. People were going to swoon at my brilliance for the fantasy and push cash at me for the space opera. I was going to have someone to do the cleaning and laundry for me and I could spend all my free time with the kids and Dan. And we’d have time and money to travel. Oh, yeah, and for purely morale purposes, I would have a cute male secretary who made a killer cup of tea. (Yes, I DO love my husband dearly, but I’m allowed eye candy.)

As you can probably guess... things went weird. First of all, I still don’t have household help. Or a cute male secretary. It also took me decades to publish. And on the way there I wrote eight books, two of which are now published in rewritten versions, and one of which I now know how to rewrite (it’s actually a trilogy). It is patiently waiting its turn. The other five are just in a world that’s not workable.

Anyway, in those thirteen or so years I was writing mostly for myself, I had to keep myself amused. So the Space Opera morphed into odd fantasy. And the odd fantasy begat other odd fantasy. And then I wrote historical and mystery and... I actually have a YA space opera with telepathic cats outlined somewhere.

And then I sold. And then when that series didn’t do so well, I sold the Musketeers. And then there was the historical. And, oh, yeah, the shifter’s fantasy. And then a proposal for an historic fantasy series sent out years before, sold. And then another mystery. And then I got attacked by a vampire series on the way from my art class.

If this sounds chaotic to you, it is. Yeah part of it is “market driven” to the extent that I tend to finish series that sell. But the other part is internal. You see, I trained myself to have ideas, and now I can’t stop having them. (Yes, it totally is a matter of training. I’ll write about it tomorrow, probably.) I’m now at the point that I believe – as Leonardo de Quirm, Terry Pratchett’s character – that the ideas rain from the sky all the time. I have tried to fashion a tinfoil hat to keep them out, but my agent says it will overheat my brain, and besides she likes it that I have ideas. (She’s a cruel woman. Love her to pieces, but.. Really. She’s leaving me at the mercy of the ideas!)

As for why the multiple names – no, I’m not embarrassed by what I write. I do however have two types of names: open and closed. Two closed, so far, (one published, one yet unpublished.) for good and sufficient reason either on my part or that of the publishers. Mostly marketing reasons. No, I’m not embarrassed. Nor am I doing anything immoral or illegal. It’s just that sometimes it’s easier to market things that way.

In the open, I have four currently, and frankly if I had started out today, they would have a slightly different distribution. Why? Because I think on the net, it is very important to brand your name. More important than it used to be when it was all paperbooks. Why do I think that? Well... because the covers might be harder to see or read for genre signs. I have plenty of readers of mystery who would be upset if they bought an SF by accident, and readers of SF who will not read historical and... So, I’m trying to establish branding. BUT because of the timing of my realization, some series are already started/done under a name that would not be different. That’s life.

As for a list, here they are in order:
Sarah A. Hoyt
The Magical Shakespeare Biography (somewhat literary fantasy, with tons of Shakespeare quotes and allusions, it reimagines the early life of the bard and his experiences with the elves of nearby Arden woods.)

Ill Met By Moonlight; All Night Awake; Any Man So Daring

Status: out of print. No authorized e-versions. I’m working on getting those out.

Sarah A. Hoyt
Shifters Series (Urban Fantasy Sarah Style. ALMOST science fiction. Shape shifters, but no vampires, no general magic even if some stuff is a bit mystical, not too much dark stuff. Mysteries and diners, though. Set in Goldport, Colorado.)

Draw One In The Dark; Gentleman Takes A Chance; Upcoming: Noah’s Boy

Status: last I heard hard to obtain in paper, but both are available in ebooks from Reasonably priced at that. I have heard rumors publisher plans to bring them out again at time of third which is started but not yet finished.

Sarah D’Almeida
Musketeer’s Mysteries and should the need arise, other historical mysteries. (Murder Mysteries solved by the three musketeers plus one.)

Death of A Musketeer; Musketeer’s Seamstress; Musketeer’s Apprentice; A Death In Gascony; Dying By The Sword and (possibly) upcoming Musketeer’s Confessor.
Status: Death of a Musketeer is being re-released by Naked Reader Press. For now it is available as an ebook. It will also soon be available POD. As for the others, their status is unclear. By the terms of my contract the rights should have reverted, however he house is being difficult. Proceed with care. If DOAM does well enough, I will write Musketeer’s Confessor for publication early next year. The trailer for Death Of A Musketeer is here.

Sarah A. Hoyt
Magical British Empire. (At the time of Charlemagne, in a magical parallel world, someone stole the eye of the goddess, which must be recovered. Victorian England. Dragons. Magic. Flying carpets. Trains and factories run on magic. Steam power and gas lights, too. Oh, yeah, romance. Africa. India. China.)
Heart of Light; Soul of Fire; Heart and Soul

Status: in print. No more planned – at least for now.

Elise Hyatt
Daring Finds Mysteries (A young woman struggles to survive and feed herself and her toddler, by refinishing furniture that, somehow, often has clues to crimes new and old. Sassy. Funny. Odd. Set in Goldport, Colorado.)

Dipped, Stripped and Dead; A French Polished Murder and upcoming A Fatal Stain.

Status: in print.

Sarah A. Hoyt
Space Opera (set along a future history populated with such things as artificial islands, wars between bioengineered and natural humans, biological solar collectors, feisty women and men who are not exactly slouches.)
Darkship Thieves and upcoming Darkship Renegades and POSSIBLY (not bought yet) A Few Good Men (in the same world/interacting, but not with characters from Darkships)

Status: in print and furiously underway. (Given my health giving me a break soon, should be done in a matter of days. At least DSR)

Sarah Marques
Blood Worlds (this is the first trilogy, but actually there is a contemporary series set in the same world. A world almost entirely taken over by vampires, in which humans must fight, gallantly, against overwhelming odds. And which vampire domination is often legalistic and undermines human societies from within. The first trilogy, just sold to Prime books, revisits the world of the three musketeers, where Richelieu is a vampire and with his guards rules the night, while the king rules the day. A noir feel and the sort of black humor where one laughs in the teeth of hell.)

Sword And Blood; Blood Royale; Rising Blood

Status: All are upcoming. The first one is delivered.

Any questions about the books or their content, or why some have a certain name? I’ll be glad to oblige with answers, if I can.

*crossposted at According To Hoyt*

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brave New World, for real

The other day I saw something amazing. My husband is a fan of the Singularity Blog and he's always saying, come here look at this.

First he showed me this one - a robotic's company called Cyberdyne. Yes, you heard right, someone has a sense of humour. They're making exoskeletons. See here. The lower leg version has been available for a year now.

And this one was elegant and amazing, a robot bird. It is controlled by a computer which communicates with the bird and controls it in real time, responding to air currents.

I like to read New Scientist on the train to work. It gives me ideas for stories and keeps me on my toes.

How do you get mental stimulation to keep your brain ticking over?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Crawlspace and other stories - the kindle experience

It finally happened: CRAWLSPACE AND OTHER STORIES is up on US kindle - now because this was the way Eric wanted it, it is not being done throught NAKED READER as the rest of my e-sales have been. I'm a better writer than I am e-publisher. (I have no real desire to fiddle my way through formats and covers and fine print.) But I am enjoying the sheer accessibility of my sales records. This is something so simple that publishers really need to drive towards. I have never met an author (and I doubt one exists) who really wants to be a mushroom - kept in the dark, fed on BS and harvested when convenient. If you're running an open, honest shop, there is no gain in keeping this information from the author either. I'd argue that the information (along with publicity spend and advance) should be public domain, but I am aware that I'd have more chance of falling pregnant. But really - to set up the feed that tells authors where they are day-to-day is not - for your medium/large publishing house - a particularly expensive or difficult process. There must be at least a million programmers available to do the job. The point is, it's a serious spur - both to authors and readers (and possibly publishers). It would be hugely popular with the authors, and cost little to implement. It's also quite a wake-up call as to how little draw I really have - Crawlspace has sold 21 copies in 5 days (in fact the process made me 45 dollars this week), whereas the Nielsen data says I sell about 500 paper books a week. But it's been very interesting in a number of ways. One has been that I've sold a few more NR shorts simply because readers discovered - on hearing about CRAWLSPACE and searching for me on Amazon Kindle - that there were more. That is why I intend to insist on teasers for other books/stories being part of any e-book in the future. It's a feedback loop I've seen over and over. The best eg. I can think of is MUCH FALL OF BLOOD - where the paperback release has seen the sales of earlier books shoot up... Provided of course they are available - A MANKIND WITCH is not. So while SHADOW OF THE LION benefitted to the tune of 1004 copies... AMW sold zero (ergo I am asking for my rights back - hopefully before the next release in that series). I am not happy about this, as I've lost readers - which is one reason, perhaps, for keeping authors in the dark.

So where is all this leading - well, quite simply into into how valuable - to me anyway, seeing the results of sales effort is. And, more importantly, how vital it is to feed the beast and to keep feeding it, and use the books you keep putting into the system to get new readers.

So: what data would you like from your publisher, and why?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday morning round-up

It's been a busy week, both in the publishing world and in the little bit of the world that is mine. For me, I've been trying to finish up reviewing edits on several titles coming out for NRP and I've been attacked by a new novel -- one that demands it be written NOW. For the industry, well, let's just say there have been a lot of developments and I'll try to touch on a few of them.

Let's start with the news from the courts. A federal judge in New York has thrown out the Google books settlement. From Publisher's Weekly: But citing copyright, antitrust and other concerns, Judge Denny Chin said that the settlement went too far. He said it would have granted Google a “de facto monopoly” and the right to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners. There is still the possibility Google and the other parties to the settlement can reach and agreement that will pass legal muster, but PW is right. This is a blow not only to Google but to the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers. The parties had taken two years to negotiate the current settlement and now must go back to the drawing board.

Then there's this head-scratcher from Hawaii. Simply put, this bill would open publishers and authors up to civil liability if a reader of a travel book or article is hurt or killed trying to get to a location described in the piece. In other words, even if that person trespasses on private property and decides to hang off the edge of a skyscraper to see that nest of birds he just read about in the travel section of the newspaper and falls, the paper and the author could be held liable. It doesn't matter that the reader didn't exercise the common sense of a gnat. At the risk of stepping over the no politics line, I have to say that this smacks of legislators going a bit too far. There has to come a point where you have to trust folks to use a little common sense. If they don't, then they need to suffer the consequences. From a realistic stand point, conditions change and what may have been true at the time an article or book is written may have changed by the time it is published. So the warning might be so totally wrong as to be misleading as well. So, trust folks to use their brains or let them suffer the consequences. This is like requiring publishers to have disclaimers that books written 200 years ago use words that are no longer considered proper, etc.

Then there was the news that Barry Eisler gave up a $500,000 publishing deal to self-publish his books. Among the reasons given were that he was unhappy with the current royalty scheme with traditional publishers -- especially where e-books are concerned -- and the desire to get his books out quicker than they would be going the traditional route.

Coming on the heels of the news about Eisler is this piece that indie publishing phenom Amanda Hocking has just signed a deal with St. Martin's. As an indie, Hocking has sold more than a million books and made more than $2 million. She has done what every indie -- heck, what every writer -- wants. She's made enough money to be able to write full-time. So why did she, as some will say, turn traitor and join the ranks of traditional publishing? According to Hocking, it's so she can finally see her books on bookstore shelves. Something else every writer wants. There are other reasons, some very good ones, including making her books available when and where her readers want them, ensuring better editing (I hate to tell her, that may be a pipe dream. I've seen some horrible editing coming out of the major publishers.) But this doesn't mean she's giving up self-publishing either. As she notes in her post, she still has a number of books she can put out on her own.

So, who's right -- Eisler or Hocking? To me, they both are. Authors have to decide what is best for them and for their readers. The industry is changing. We have to change with it, whether we're authors or editors or publishers. If we don't, we'll be left behind.

Finally, if you want to take part in a poll, Genreville has a poll about SF/Fantasy purchasing habits. You can find it here.

What do you think? Should there be a new Google books settlement? Should there be warnings and disclaimers in travel books and articles? Self-publish or traditional?

(Cross-posted to The Naked Truth)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Authors and the dreaded 'Promo'

Once upon a time, authors would sit in a little room somewhere and write. Not so, any more. Here is the poster I had to produce for SUPANOVA, (Brisbane next weekend and Melbourne the weekend after). They wanted a picture of me. I couldn't bear the thought of a giant poster with my face on it, so I added the book covers. It still means I have to go to the hairdressers and get them to straighten my hair because no one can take me seriously when I look like a French poodle!

On a more serious note it means I have two weekends when I can't write and, while I enjoy catching up with other writers and meeting readers, I'm happiest pottering around at home, writing when ever I can slip away to my study.

You know self promotion is serious when a publisher puts up a list of tips for their writers . (See it here, Simon and Schuster). Here are Patricia Simpson's self promotion tips for romance writers. Have to admire those romance writers, they are so organised. And here Victoria Strauss from Writers Beware talks about self promotion, and invites Alyx Dellamonica to talk about it. Then we have The Author as a Brand from Writers Website Planner and Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers gets in on it.

All of which is pretty overwhelming. I've heard people say, don't try and do everything. Just pick a couple of things that you are good at and do those. Here's the list of what I currently do:

I'm on Amazon Author Central. Lucky for me it updates from my blog, so I don't have to drop by there every couple of days.

I'm on Twitter, which I find surprisingly interesting. I didn't think I would because - What can you say in 140 characters or less? - but I seem to have 'Followed' a lost of quirky writers and people tweeting about political injustice. There's always a link through to a post that makes me think. I don't know if I am actually using Twitter to promote myself, more I respond to what other people have said or share a great movie or book. I have linked my blog into twitter, so it updates when I post.

I have the King Rolen's Kin blog. It's been nice having a blog because people read my books, google KRK, then drop by and tell me how much they enjoyed them, which is reassuring because I'm as insecure as the next writer. I tried to post to the KRK blog about twice a week, but sometimes after I've been marking first year UNI student essays for 5 days straight, I'm all out of interesting conversation. I sit at the keyboard and think, what do I have to say that would possibly interest people? That's why I'm relieved to be doing the interviewing of female fantasy writers. (Not that I don't like male fantasy writers. See why I'm featuring female fantasy authors).

I'm here at the Mad Genius Club, where I get an insight into what's happening with writers in the US, since my perspective is Australian and about 2 years behind the US as far as e-readers etc go. It's been very informative for me.

I'm also at the ROR Blog, where we talk about practical things to do with writing craft and what's happening in our end of the world, over here in Australia.

I am on FaceBook. I drop by once a day and do an update. Someone created a King Rolen's Kin page and I still haven't figured out how to use it. I found that if I did an update with the words King Rolen's Kin in it, the update would appear on the KRK page, but then it would disappear after a couple of days. (Still a bit of a FaceBook newbie, I'm afraid).

And when my books came out I contacted lots of review blog sites, offering copies, a guest post and a give-away. it cost me a small fortune posting books off all over the world for prizes, but I figure it is cheaper than flying to the US, the UK and Europe (I wish!).

In-person-stuff I tend to do at conventions, festivals and workshops at libraries etc. I can volunteer for panels at SF conventions and I have writing groups contacting me for workshops, but I can't get invited to festivals because my publisher is based in the UK and the way it works here in Australia, the publisher has to contact the festival. It's considered bad form if the writer does. Most of the festivals are literary and they aren't all that interested in genre writers.

All of this takes time when I could be writing. But I tend to do the on-line stuff after a long day at work, when my creative brain is tired, or after a long day of writing when my brain is creatively drained, so I don't think it is stealing that much time from my writing.

The publishing world has changed so much since my first children's book came out in 1996, all the things that you did or didn't do are different. The process of reaching out to readers is much easier. I really like that part.

Authors, people who like to be left alone for hours on end while creating invented worlds, and self promotion. It's a contradiction but we struggle on. What do you do to promote your writing?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Writing to Market (Not?)

When I started off writing, I would often see articles and emails floating around saying how important it was to write to your market. Although I could understand the sense of this, in another way I could not see the point. I came to writing late, overwhelmed by an urge to develop my ideas and turn them into story. Frankly, if I could not develop my ideas my way, then I could not see the point of all of the pain to begin with. I had other ways to make money - and good money at that.

So I guess I did my own thing, the result of which is various manuscripts that were not judged commercial, or did not fit into the neat marketing categories. The most notorious of which is Warriors of the Blessed Realms, which is a hybrid SF/Urban Fantasy/Heroic Fantasy that straddles various worlds from contemporary Earth to the Vaults of Sheol and the Blessed Realms themselves.

Years ago (2003), an editor rang me to say they liked WBR, but perhaps could I take out the SF? Well, the SF was so integral to the story I could only answer - No. As a result, I missed a great opportunity for a potential sale. Basically removing the SF would have resulted in a novel that had very little in common (at least on a conceptual level) with the original concept. (I think I was actually in shock at the question, which probably dulled my wits a little.)

What I have realised since then is I should have said - YES!! - then proceeded to write a completely new novel with the same title and characters:) I am still kicking myself after all this time.

While I don't think I would ever really 'chase' a market, I have learned since then that I can generate ideas out of just about any context imaginable, so if someone gives me a solid reason to do it (i.e. they will publish it) then I can make use of any material to weave a story.

Right - now I have blurted out my biggest publishing blunder. . .

I have known quite a few writers who have deliberately set out to capitalize on trends. I'm not sure this has really worked out all that well for them. The reason is that by the time something is recognised as 'in' the trend is really quite well established. Writing a good novel takes time. If you add the fact that the new movement/innovation/setting has probably really been around for at least a decade by the time LOCUS does a special on it, then add the five years it takes to really produce a masterpiece - that's 15 years. Time enough for the next new thing to come along.

I've seen a lot of writers run foul of this timeline. Their novels get shunted aside in the tide of copycats that flood onto the editor's desk.

Now - anticipating a trend is something different. Can anyone actually do it? I'm not sure. But some people have sure as Hell got lucky!

I think this is one of the reasons that great writers are often not recognised in their lifetime. Perhaps they are ahead of there time, perhaps they are writing something that is seen as having had its day. Maybe it takes fifty years before the cycle comes around again and someone actually picks their novel up and assesses it on its merits and realises its brilliance.

So do you try to anticipate or follow current trends? Or do you just follow your crazy ideas wherever they lead?


I've been back from LunaCon for several days now, although it feels a lot longer. Work will do that to you.

It was a great convention despite some interesting issues with double-booking and a programming team scrambling to keep from getting too behind (apparently they lost their programming database 2 months before the convention - OUCH!) as well as a lack of mobile bodies doing duty as convention minions. Some people were booked for 15 or more panels over the course of the weekend, and one or two tried valiantly to actually be at every last one of them.

Friday highlights:
- The lady running the SoHo Host Club has the right idea - surround yourself with polite, attractive, well-groomed young men. It makes quite the impression!
- Meet the Pros party chatting with Heidi Hooper (aka the dryer lint art lady), Michael Ventrella and assorted others. Somewhere the conversation got onto vegetarian vampires, the chocolate fountain ran out and desperate souls trailed the waiter out of the room grabbing as much of the rapidly solidifying chocolate as they could.

Saturday highlights:
- chatting with Esther Friesner between Cheeblemancy readings
- Dracula vs Undead Porn panel with KT Pinto which turned into a free-ranging discussion about the vampire mythos, the inadvisability of vampire sparkles, and when urban fantasy becomes undead porn. Naturally I wore my "Dracula Never Sparkled" badge.
- Catching up with Mike Kabongo and Leo Champion between panels and parties.

Sunday highlights:
- People hanging off the railings near the hotel pool for the World Building panel with Esther Friesner, Russ Handleman, Pauline Alama and Paul Calhoun. That one was actually scheduled for a good-sized room, but the room was the one that was showing movies all convention so we ended up down by the pool in a space meant for maybe 5 people. It was a fun panel, with some interesting insights into what shapes culture.

Monday I took things easy and drove home after a good night's sleep, and I've been in post-convention recovery ever since (aka exhausted and brain-dead). But I'm paid up for next year, and in about a month I'll ping the programming email to get myself on next year's programming.

(cross-posted to Kate's Corner)

This is Sarah -- Kate allowed me to post this link to my blog where I did a follow up on my post yesterday. I.e. I've come to a decision on what to do, at least for now: Welcome To The Treadmill

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Money Matters

I hate it when it’s time to get resourceful. For all my innovation in writing, my interest in the new and the different, I crave security at a very deep level. Frankly, it’s a joke that someone with my need for security should be in a profession where the money comes slow and irregularly when it comes at all.

Lately a series of very bad expenses – all new appliances except for the stove which is limping (and I do mean limping, unfortunately) along and might hold another year if we’re lucky, a series of car repairs, tuition for both kids an idiot cat who swallowed a bunch of thread and other sundry emergencies – have driven a knife deep into my bank account. This combines with the fact that payments that used to be almost instant in publishing are often now eight months late to bring us to a no good, very bad, rotten type of financial situation.

Of course the problem with this is that anxiety brings my writing to a grinding halt, and that in turn grinds the payments to an even slower schedule because I deliver late.

To put things bluntly, we need to make up the about 12k in unexpected expenses (yeah, the tuition was expected, but the rest wasn’t) that have buffeted us since around December or things are going to go south very fast and get extremely unpleasant to the point that writing time will become iffy (as in, if we need to move).

In this type of situation, normally, I get a day job. Except... I haven’t needed to do that in more than ten years, so my marketable skills are limited. Also I’m signed for six books due this year. This combination means in this market getting a job at all will be... uh... interesting and that if I get a job I won’t be able to write.

This leaves me two options, which – while both cut into my writing by making more writing – are actually doable and in several ways preferable.

One is a storyteller’s bowl. I set up a site and start putting up a novel, then set a value per chapter – since my chapters are short, probably a relatively low value – and once that value is reached in donations, I put up the next chapter. The only problem with this is finishing the novel before I put it up. I don’t think that would happen, which means people would essentially be donating for an e-arc – an unedited/unpolished novel. I was thinking – for those of you in the diner – of putting up my regency Witchfinder novel with the Scarlet Pimpernel character. It is outlined, and I know I can finish it, and well... I will write for money. (I could also do a science fiction, mind you...)

The other is a subscription. For – say – $10 a year, I commit to two short stories a month, 60% of those to be set in either the world (and probably past history) of DST and shifters. (Probably more than 60%, but I can promise 60%. ) There would be the occasional three short story month/novellete/story by a “guest author” as a bonus.

I am tempted to try both of them. They would take less time away from contracts than an honest job and if they bring in what I need, it would reduce anxiety enough to allow me to work.

What do you guys think the chances of either/both/neither of these succeeding are? I confess that they’re all too “risky” to my mind and that I hate having to get creative in this way. However, it seems that I DO have to try. Ideas? Suggestions? Rotten tomatoes?

Crossposted at According To Hoyt and Classical Values.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Words, the writer's tools ...

I've spent the last two days working 12 hours straight, teaching and marking. Before that, like Dave, I've been madly writing in every spare moment. I am so deep into The Outcast trilogy that I can't read any other books, or I will forget where I am in approx 2,100 pages of story with 4 points of view and numerous supporting characters. (Each book is between 650 - 750 pages).

So I'm feeling a creatively drained. On Sunday after a marathon session I almost finished the story arc of the third book. Now it is time to go back to book one and work on all the little things I have in my To Fix list for each book.

Today at UNI we were teaching semiotics, which is all about meanings and signs/symbols/words. It made me think about the very small differences in word choice that we, as writers, make instinctively all the time. For instance if I chose 'rural', over 'rustic', each time I made a small word choice like this, it would eventually lead to a different over-all feel for the book/story.

Then there are the invented words. We writers of fantasy and SF are always inventing words. I want my invented words to have meaning and not just by a jumble of letters. So what I do is look up the thesaurus for similar words, then take a couple of those words and look up their Old English, Old Norse, Old German and Latin roots. Then I come up with a word that has its roots in those origins, so that, while it is an invented word, it has connotations which the reader will pick up on subconsciously. Or so I hope.

For instance, in my T'En trilogy I had a character called T'Reothe. He was betrothed to the main character. I came to his name by looking at 'Betrothed' and to 'Plight one's Troth'. Betroth comes from Medieval English - trouth/treuth. Troth comes from Medieval English - trowthe and Old English - treowth. All of which mean truth. Maybe no one would ever pick up on it. But to me, his name had meaning and I was comfortable with it, because as a character he held firmly to his beliefs.

Are you as obsessed with the choice of words and invented words as I am?

Monday, March 21, 2011

To start again

So I turned the latest book (DOG AND DRAGON) in on Wednesday. At some stage Toni will read it, and hopefully like it. At some stage the Australian Dollar will strengthen to a 10 year peak and I will get paid. Currency manipulators could hire me.

For a day or two I just had pure burnout. Glad to go out and fish and do some of the vast list of round-tuits that have built up. Dive for Abalone, cover myself in gooey little bits of it. (What? Do you mean you DON'T? Oh. But it is so good for your fur. Honestly, ask any hairy chested damsel out there. Really, you need to try it. Especially you poor bald-chested folk. It stops the deposition of all that fat on chest too. That only happens to cold chests to protect them. You can see this because of the hypertophy in the ones with insufficient clothes to keep warm.) Then I got onto chasing people who are late paying for shorts, and trying to sort out just WHY we're still waiting on CRAWLSPACE AND OTHER STORIES (Tomorrow, we are promised. We will see), and to follow up on the contracts for WITHOUT A TRACE. I even had a go with Audacity (programme, not lady-of-ill repute) reading one of my shorts aloud. I want to put this up somewhere and am not too sure how or where. - So ideas welcome*

Now I am starting on phase two of recovery. Which is reading fiction again. The latter part of a book just lacks time and I read nothing except research material. Now, I don't know about the rest of you but there are books / authors I turn to get myself wanting to write again. Call it hero worship if you like. For me it's Zelazny - probably 'I Immortal' right now, or 'Jack of Shadows' - and a good happy wallow in a Heyer or two. A Pratchett - Probably Small Gods or Pyramids, but possibly my friend Moist Von Lipwig. And probably a Michael Scott Rohan - who I suspect is an author's author as he never really hit the audience spot that Jordan or GRRM did - but appeals almost infinitely more to me. Then I might read Goblin Reservation or Way Station again just to be reassured that rural writers had readers. After this I'll move onto some newer fiction, some of which I will hate. But returning to these roots is what shapes me and makes me desire to be a writer. Any books that do this for you?

Phase 3 will be writing proposals as the voices start clamoring to get out, and maybe a short or two. And then, once more, body, mind and soul into the book-pit. At which point some Kindly One** will intervene with edits or proofs or something, and I will have extracate myself and worse, get back in. Usually this stage is reached in about 2-3 weeks, with goatgaggers (Heirs of Alexandria books) taking me longer to recover from. They're much longer books.

So: as we've all said - never write one book/story... how do you guys cycle back in? Do the books you read shape the direction your next book will take? They do for me.

*Slice and 'where the monkey keeps its nuts' are not ideas. They are places. Geography.
** You should get a better Classical Mythological education if you want to follow my obscure sarcasm. Sneaking in 'in jokes' in your prose is one of the small compensations for the pay-rates.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Morning Thoughts

I'll admit it, I'm exhausted both mentally and physically this morning. For those of you who read my personal blog or who have seen my posts on Facebook, you know that this has not been a restful Spring Break. Oh, don't get me wrong. I love it when my son comes home from college. But part of me has spent the last few days almost wishing he hadn't -- not because I didn't want to see him or want him to come home. No, it all comes down to this -- after he left university, his dorm room flooded. It was one of a number that were damaged to varying degrees when an overhead pipe burst. Unfortunately, his room was one of the worst ones hit, at least according to the housing office. So, we've spent the last few days trying to figure out what has to be replaced immediately, what he needs to do when he gets there, etc. Needless to say, it's made it very difficult to think about writing or publishing or anything else.

So, with your indulgence, I'm simply going to ask a few of questions and see if we can't get a discussion started that way.

1. What do you think about blending genres in novels? Do you like a little mystery mixed in with your romance, a little fantasy with your mystery? What genres do you like to see mixed and which ones do you feel should never, ever be mixed? Or do you prefer your genres to remain "pure"?

2. Do you feel cheated when a cover doesn't ring true to the book? In other words, if you buy a book based on its cover and, after starting to read the book, do you get upset to find out the cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story?

3. How important is the cover for an e-book to you?

4. Are there any questions you want to ask?

Thanks, guys. I'll check back in afterwhile. Now I'm off to find gas for the new mower. Fuuuun.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some thoughts on sequels, snippets and those voices in your head.

There's a question that is often asked by authors, usually new ones, when it comes to sequels. It is basically this: Should I write a sequel to my book? My answer has always been to wait and see if you find a publisher for the first book and then to see if it sells well enough to justify writing a follow-up. Now, there are times, at least for me, when that advice isn't completely followed. I say completely because, well, I have a sequel to Nocturnal Origins about halfway written and completely outlined. Why? Because those voices in my head get so noisy at times it was was the only way to quiet them so I could work on anything else.

But recently, I've come to wonder if there's not another reason to have at least a rough draft of a few chapters of a sequel written when the first book finally comes out. It can be great promotion -- of course, it can also backfire on you. Hopefully, for me, it's working and will help drive the sales of Origins to the point that NRP will buy the next book in the series.

All of this is a round-about way of saying I've been posting a few snippets to Nocturnal Serenade, the sequel to Nocturnal Origins, over on my writing blog. You can find the first two here and here. I thought today, I'd post a third snippet both on my blog and here.

The following scene is not what comes next in Serenade. I thought I’d skip ahead some. This scene comes about 75 pages or so into the book. It will give a little of Mac’s family background and, hopefully, tease you some about what’s happening in the book. Yes, I’m evil and I love it. Hope you enjoy the snippet.

* * *

“All right, Mackenzie, don’t you think it’s time you told me what in the world is going on?”

They’d finally collected Ellen’s bags, after what had to be one of the longest delays in getting luggage from a jet to the terminal in recent memory, and had made their way to Pat’s sedan. Instead of answering her grandmother’s question right away, Mac had stowed Ellen’s luggage in the trunk, thinking hard as she did. Where to start? There was so much to tell her grandmother, none of which would be easy.

So she’d start with the easiest. She’d explain that they’d have to wait until morning to go to the hospital. The doctors wanted to keep Elizabeth sedated during the night so she could get some of the rest she needed so badly to begin her recovery. Ellen simply nodded, her eyes flitting from her granddaughter to Pat and back again.

Now, with Pat carefully navigating her way through the parking garage, Mac knew she couldn’t put off telling Ellen the rest of it. Especially not with her grandmother looking at her so closely. Still, she couldn’t quite find the words to begin.

“When did you start shifting?” Ellen’s voice carried a mixture of concern and, to Mac’s surprise, guilt. “And I assume you’re aware of the fact your partner’s a shifter as well.”

Well, trust her grandmother to cut right to the chase.

“It’s a long story, Gran, and I’ll tell you everything later. I promise. But the short version is this. Shortly after my birthday, I was attacked by one of the local lycans. He damn near killed me – Hell, they thought he had. Imagine my surprise when I woke up in the morgue. I about scared the poor attendant to death – Any way, the attack awakened my shifter abilities. I started shifting shortly after that, although I didn’t realize what was happening.”

Anger and resentment flared as she remembered how scared she’d been, how close she’d come to actually considering killing herself for being a monster.

Easy, Mac. It’s not her fault you didn’t know what might happen one day. You know that. Just as you know it’s something you need to talk to your mother about. So ease back on the anger.

“Fortunately” she continued, relieved none of the resentment showed in her voice, “my captain, who happens to be the local pride leader, did realize what was happening to me. He sent Pat and another member of the pride to watch me. Fortunately, all of them, especially Pat who helped me control one of my first shifts and then who took me somewhere secluded so she could teach me, helped me begin accepting what was happening.”

“Thank you.” Ellen reached over and lightly clasped Pat’s shoulder in appreciation. “And this lycan who attacked you?”

“It didn’t take long to realize he was responsible for a series of murders Mac and I were investigating. At first we didn’t know if he was a loner, because there hadn’t been any problem with the local lycans for years, or what. Then we realized he was a member of the local lycan pack and was doing his best to stir up trouble. Which, as I’m sure you realize, was the last thing any of us wanted,” Pat said.

“Wait!” Ellen leaned forward, reaching out with her left hand to turn Mac’s face to her. “That is why the Conclave convened here, without warning. You met that bastard in the Circle.”

It was more statement than question and all Mac could do was nod.

“I dealt with him, Gran, as I needed to.” That much was true. She had needed to deal with Wilcox herself, not only for what he’d done to her but for what he’d done to the others he’d stalked and killed. “The Circle gave me the only way I could make him pay for his crimes without arresting him, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I couldn’t risk him shifting while in custody.”

“Of course you couldn’t!” Ellen leaned back, suddenly looking her age as the implications sank in. “Mackenzie, I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have –“

“Gran, don’t.” Mac waited until she knew she had her grandmother’s undivided attention. Then she waited a moment longer as Pat paid the toll to get off of the airport grounds. “I won’t lie to you. I was angry and hurt and more than a little confused and scared about what was happening to me. Then, when I learned shifting ran in the family, that you and Granddad were shifters, I was more mad than anything else. I didn’t think we had any secrets between us, and, damn, this was a big ass secret.

“I’ve had to do a lot of thinking since then. I know it wasn’t your decision not to tell me. That’s something I’m going to have to discuss with Mom when she’s better. But I am glad you know now and that we can talk about it, and about the family aspect of it.”

“Mackenzie, there’s more to this than you’re telling me. What is it?”

Mac laughed softly, ruefully. She’d forgotten just how quickly Ellen could read through all the layers and realize she’d hadn’t been told everything.

“Unfortunately, Gran, there is.” She paused, chewing her lip as she thought. “I know you’re worried. But I’d appreciate it if you’d wait for an explanation until we get to my place.”

Leaning back, arms crossed, Ellen studied her granddaughter for a moment before nodding. The moment she did, Mac smiled and thanked her. It was going to be hard enough to tell her everything that had happened, especially when it came to the attack on Elizabeth. The last thing Mac wanted was to be confined in the car where she had to sit still, not pace and burn off at least some of her own anger and fear as she spoke.

Half an hour later, Mac and Pat carried Ellen’s luggage inside and upstairs to the bedroom she’d be using while in town. Ellen trailed behind them and Mac could almost feel her fighting against the urge to start asking questions again. She understood. If their roles had been reversed, she’d have been demanding answers long ago. But then, she’d never had her grandmother’s patience, something she knew she should try to cultivate but simply didn’t seem to be able to.

“All right, Gran.” Mac handed Ellen a glass of wine and sat across the kitchen table from her. They were alone for the moment. Pat had excused herself a few minutes earlier and had disappeared outside. Although she hadn’t said so, Mac knew she was checking the perimeter and talking with whomever King had sent from the pride to keep watch. “You said there’s more to what’s happened than I told you and you’re right. There’s a hell of a lot more. But let’s start at the beginning. How much do you know about what happened at the Conclave?”

And you’d better be ready to tell me how you know, since you weren’t anywhere near here at the time.

“I know that the Conclave was called by the head of the pride here because at least one of the local lycans was openly hunting and leaving his kills where they were being found. I’d heard that the lycan had also attacked a member of the pride. Cassandra called the Conclave when it became clear that the pack leader either wouldn’t or couldn’t control the lycan, this Wilcox I assume.” She waited until Mac nodded in confirmation. “Apparently, the pack turned Wilcox over to the Conclave for judgment rather than risk the Conclave disbanding the pack or ordering its extinction.”

“All true,” Mac confirmed. “The pack leader, Ferguson, had been aware of the trouble Wilcox was stirring up but hadn’t, apparently, realized how much trouble he was actually causing in the pack itself. When he did, instead of calling out Wilcox, he punished two weaker members and expelled them. All that seemed to do was send Wilcox over the edge. He’d already caused at least two deaths that we know of, as well as attacking me. His third kill was also here in the city and happened just before the Conclave arrived.”

“So, how did you wind up meeting him in the Circle?”

A hint of disapproval touched Ellen’s voice. Mac heard it but knew it wasn’t aimed at her. Or at least not totally. She had a feeling that when her grandmother finally met King and realized he was the local pride leader, her captain would get a lecture he’d not soon forget.

“When the Conclave passed the death sentence on Wilcox, he demanded his right to trial by battle. Pat and some of the others of the pride had already warned me that he had that option. So, when the Speaker, this Cassandra, asked Mike who would stand as the pride’s representative in the Circle, I said I would.”


“Gran, I didn’t have a choice. I had to do it. I had to for me, as well as for all the others he’d attacked. We still don’t know now many others he killed. Nor do we know if he managed to turn anyone. But we do know he can’t do any more harm and the pack now realizes we will not stand by and let them run wild. It’s hard enough keeping our existence a secret without one of them getting careless and revealing our existence through DNA or other forensic evidence.”

“I understand why you felt you needed to do it, Mackenzie. What I don’t understand is why your pride leader allowed it. You were too new as a shifter.”

“Gran, that’s you speaking as my grandmother. Besides, Mike knew better than to try to stop me. I had to do it and, as you can see, I managed quite well, thank you.”

“All right.” Now she smiled, and reached over to grasp Mac’s hand. “Don’t get me wrong, sweetheart. I’m very proud of you. Your grandfather would be as well, if he were here to see you.”

“I hope so, Gran.” She gave Ellen’s hand a quick squeeze and then leaned back, wondering how to say this next part. “But there is more you need to know.”

“Just say it, dear heart.”

“Gran, we haven’t caught the bastard who attacked Mom. But we do know one thing about him, or her.”

“I have a feeling I’m not going to like what you have to say.”

“You aren’t.” Mac lifted her wineglass and drained it. “Gran, she was knifed by a lycan. I don’t know if the bastard was trying to turn her and things got out of hand or what.”

Ellen looked at her in disbelief, the color draining from her face. Then, much as Mac had done just a moment before, she lifted her wineglass and drank it dry.

“Y-you’re sure?”

“I am. I got there within minutes of the attack happening and there was no mistaking the scent. Pat and Mike confirmed it.”

“Damn it!” Ellen shoved back her chair and got to her feet. Mac watched as she paced the length of the kitchen once and then twice before returning to the table.

“It gets worse, Gran. I don’t know if he infected her. Hell, even if he didn’t, I don’t know if she’ll react like I did and start shifting on her own.”

“Dear sweet Lord, Mac. This is going to be more than your mother can handle.”

“You’re right. We tried talking to her about it when she was old enough to start showing signs of shifting, not that she had. But she wouldn’t listen to us. When she finally realized just how serious we were, she decided to try to ignore it all. When she couldn’t do that any more, and when she realized she wasn’t going to be a shifter, she convinced herself that your grandfather and I had some sort of hideous disease that she wanted to avoid at all costs.” Ellen paused, gnawing her lower lip much as Mac did when thinking hard.

“So, when you were born and I tried talking to her again about the possibility of you being a shifter, she panicked. She watched your every move, scared you’d begin showing signs of having inherited the curse.

“She should have told you, Mac. I should have told you….”

“Gran, don’t.” Mac slid out of her chair and moved around the table to her side, holding her close. “It’s over. Now you can help me continue learning. More than that, you can help me look after Mom and help her deal with what’s happened.”

Ellen nodded and Mac relaxed slightly. They’d have to talk some more, a great deal more, but it could wait. One step at a time, and they’d already taken a huge one. Even better, they’d managed to do it without it devolving into an argument. Now if she could just figure out how to manage the same with her mother when Elizabeth was able to talk.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Titanic Theory of Writing

I've been amusing myself again by doing writing analogies. This time it's the Titanic Theory of Writing - or specifically, how to manage your 'ship' without hitting an ice-berg and having your writing productivity plummet to zero (with a few ideas fleeing in the lifeboats).

In this case the icebergs are a handy analogy for creative lockjaw. The emotional freeze that stops your creativity and the words flowing. It's not much good running into one and saying 'Oh Damn!' Much better to be on the lookout for dangerous waters - events and snarl-ups that will dent your productivity. It is better to sail around them or cut back the engines then rip out the hull.:) These would be things along the lines of staying alert for events coming up that will restrict writing time, or knowing that you will get a manuscript back with red pen all over it - both of which might effect your flow, or at least divert energy. That might be time to cut back the engines and chart a course.

You also need to stoke up the coal-fired boilers to give yourself motive force. Maybe plan a few things to keep the motivation and love of story alive inside you as well. Need to keep the flame alive inside you to keep going along. Of course all good nineteenth century engineers knew you did not want too much pressure in the boiler - otherwise kaboom! Not point winding yourself up and setting the expectations too high.

I've recently had to jump the hoops of a few Navigation Room incidents. The ship needs to chart its course (OK so I am a plotter - sue me!). I need a certain amount of planning before I declare 'full steam ahead'.

And last but not least - make sure you have enough lifeboats! Plan emergency measures for severe dips. I used to keep a David Gemmell novel in a sealed envelope along with written instructions (no I'm not kidding).

What's your favourite writing analogy? How do you keep the coal-fires burning on your ship of prose?

What do you do?

What do you do when you're overloaded, and there's not one damn thing you can do to take some of the pressure off?

Yeah, that's right. The post I was going to write has gone bye-bye in the wake of a minor meltdown set off by a string of mostly minor things that just built up over the day combined with not being well and a few other more or less seasonal issues.

In other news, I've got most of the prep done for LunaCon. I still need to cut out the bookmarks (I'll be signing them at the con as giveaways, but you've got to sit through a panel or a reading first), but that's about all that's left.

My schedule for the con (the last I heard: this might change between now and Friday)

Reading (from Impaler, natch): Friday 5pm
Saturday 6pm - Invisible Collaborator or Paid Fanfiction?
Saturday 7pm: Dracula vs Undead Porn
Sunday 1pm: World-Building for Historical/Fantasy Fiction
Sunday 3pm: Writing Battle Scenes

Assuming I can manage to not melt down, it should be fun.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened

I’ve been meaning to announce, only life keeps interfering, that I sold Sword and Blood, under the pen name Sarah Marques to Prime Books.

Why a pen name is tied up with “what is sword and blood.”

I suppose only a few of you know my very first sale was Thirst, a vampire short story, back in ninety four. If you look in the year’s best fantasy and horror for that year, it is under “honorable mentions.”

The truth is more complicated than that – truth always is – I actually sold it sometime in 93 of course, that part is normal. But I never got paid and didn’t even know it had been published until years later, while doing a routine search for my name on Amazon. Back then, it only showed three or four items, and that was one of them. You see, I sold it to an Australian magazine, the entire print run of which got seized and destroyed for violating indecency laws. I guess they’d got a magazine out to Year’s Best before that happened, but I never saw it.

Then I sold that short story again. Four times. It killed two more magazines and an editor. Finally, I sold another story (I was starting to think that would never happen) a science fiction one called Plaudit Cives to Absolute Magnitude. And I thought Dreams of Decadence was run by the same people and what the heck. So I sent Thirst to them, with its sorry history attached and ended the cover letter with “Do you feel lucky?”

Apparently they did, since they bought it and it was published... in 06? 07? Somewhere around that.

Since then I’ve done vampires intermittently always as short stories. On the one hand there is a lot to explore in the vampire mythos: the trade of death for life; the power that comes with virtually endless life; the nature of evil; the link of sex and blood which seems to be somewhere at the very back of my head. Vampires fulfill Terry Pratchett’s dictum that in the end all the important stories are about the death and the blood. (This is part of the reason I get so exasperated at what seems to me the defanging of vampires in Romance, because what’s the point of it if you don’t have the blood and the death. But then again, I never understood the appeal of the Disney versions of fairytales.) There was The Blood Like Wine and For Whose Dear Sake, and I get the persistent feeling I’m forgetting another.

Then three/four years ago, I was slammed under six books and home schooling a teenage genius. Something had to give and something did. Sleeping and vacations were no longer working as relaxation, so I took up art class because while working in pastel or pencil, my mind became empty of words.

Then one day I came out of class, and had parked far from the school (the school is across from a sports complex, and people parking for the game had taken everything up for half a mile.) By the time I got in the car and got my key in the ignition, I had three books in my mind in their entirety.
My first thought was “Oh, heck no. I can’t write that.” You see, they were the three musketeers set in a crepuscular world in which vampires rule most of the world and there’s a fight over France. Oh, yeah, and Athos has just been turned.

I came home and did what I do when I want to get rid of a novel that won’t shut up. I outlined it and wrote the first three pages. But it wouldn’t shut up. The series stayed at the back of my mind, nagging me, until I finished the first book, almost a year ago.

It has now been bought (and the still unwritten sequels, Royal Blood and Rising Blood) by Prime Books (not to be confused with Prime Crime.) It is not... exactly what my friend Kate calls undead porn, but it has sex. Oh, and death. And blood. Because of that, and fearing giving those of you who are fans of the other musketeer series or my space operas whiplash, I am bringing it out under Sarah Marques, which shall henceforth be my name for historical fantasy.

I’ve put up three chapters of Sword And Blood, the first book, in a temporary page. It’s not proofed and don’t sweat the look, this is just temporary. Before you head over, beware it contains references to sex. Discretion advised.

Hope you enjoy it, in many ways it’s the most intense thing I’ve ever written, though that might change when Darkship Renegades is done.

Do you mind horribly that I’m doing vampires? (I promise they don’t glow!)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ten Traits of Creative People

I write so much about creativity is because the subject fascinates me. I came across this post by Liz Strauss on why creative folk drive us crazy. In it she dissects a section from Dr Mihaly Csikszentmikalyi's book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. The section deals with the 10 dimensions of a creative personality, or as Liz Strauss puts it, 10 reasons why creative people drive us crazy.

Since Dr Mihaly Csikszentmikalyi studied people who had been inventive in technology and science these description may not apply as much to writers but I thought it would be interesting to examine this from a writer's perspective.

1. Creative individuals have great physical energy, but they become extremely quiet when they are at rest. This restful period can lead others to think that they are not feeling well or that they are unhappy, when the truth is they are fine.

Well, our job as writers tends to be static. But I can spend a day writing non stop and feel like I've just a run a marathon. My mind will be racing. Also, I can be watching TV, listening to people talk on the train or just staring off into space, but my mind will be either making connections as to motivations and reasons behind people's actions, or doing the same thing for the characters in my current manuscript.

When the urge to get a story down hits me, I feel like I'm on a high. Do you get this feeling?

2. Creative folks tend to be both highly intelligent and naive at the same time.

I laughed when I read this one. Has anyone ever watched a documentary about the Disney artists called Dream on Silly Dreamer? It looks at the rise of the Disney animation studio in the early nineties and what happened to it. These artists were ignored by the Disney corporation. Left to get on with their jobs they produced beautiful work - The little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, the Lion King. Then the business people saw they were making money, they moved in and stifled all creativity and tried to milk the animators like cows. Consequently the next movies were not as successful and most of the animators lost their jobs. What was interesting was that most of the animators, as the talked about the events, still did not understand what had happened to them. They had the exact same combination of personality traits mentioned in the above point. They were highly creative people who were also a bit naive about the world.

It is rare to combine the creativity with the business sense. Today, writers are expected to be that business person. Not only do they have to write great books, but they must do their accounts, promote their books and plan their career.

I know I tend to wish the business side of it would take care of itself, but I do knuckle under and get it done. Are you in the same boat?

3. Creative people are disciplined and playful simultaneously. In some creative people, this can mean that they are responsible and irresponsible at the same time as well.

This is a good point. One of the things I tell people in my workshops is that you must give yourself permission to make mistakes. When children play they learn by making mistakes. As adults we have an investment in getting it right. But as writers, we need to be willing to make mistakes, to take that creative risk. So we are playful. But we are also highly disciplined. You can't sit at a computer (every spare moment) as I have done for the past three months in 35- 40 degree heat with a wet towel around your neck and rewrite three 700 page books, without being highly disciplined.

Take a look at yourself, do you combine that sense of playful risk taking in your creative gambles, combined with personal discipline?

4. Creative minds move between a spectrum of fantasy and imagination and a firm grounding in reality. They understand the present and need to keep in touch with the past.

Wow the first half of this is so accurate for fantasy and SF writers it is scary. I would argue that the second half also applies, as it is through examination of the past, that we writers extrapolate the future and explore how humanity would react given technological changes.

In fact I would argue that it is the role of creative people to examine the present by holding a mirror (a distorted mirror if they are writing fantasy and SF) to the world. By exaggerating aspects of everyday behaviour, we make them easier to see.

Do you feel you can see a fantastical world and yet remain grounded?

5. Creative individuals seem to be both introverted and extroverted, expressing both traits at once. An image to explain this might be that they are shy showoffs, if you can picture that.

I think writers tend to be observers of life and people. I find people endlessly fascinating, but also frustrating and bit frightening. The extroverted part of me enjoys running lectures and making the students laugh. The introverted part of me could happily live in a monastery and do nothing but write.

Does the term 'shy showoff' strike a chord with you?

6. Creative people are sincerely humble and extremely proud in a childlike way. It requires ego to have a risky, fresh idea. It takes self-doubt to hammer it out to a workable form.

Think of Dave's post yesterday. It struck home with me because I have to love the book I'm writing, or I wouldn't write it. I can be totally in love with it and totally despairing of it within a day, or even an hour. I want people to read what I write. I want them to love the characters as much as I do. Yet the idea that readers will read and be critical of my book terrifies me.

From speaking to other writers they tend to feel this same conflict towards their work.

7. Creative folks don’t feel as tied to gender roles. They feel distinctly individual. They don’t feel the barriers of authority or the rules of what they are “supposed to do.”

Or put another way, creative people tend to be a bit iconoclastic. Add to this we are writers and readers of speculative fiction, quite happy to identify with an AI or a genderless alien, and you can see how accurate this description is. if we could not 'think outside the box' we could not create other cultures for our books, or write from a different Point of View.

8. Creative individuals are thought to be rebellious. Yet, in order to be creative one has to understand and have internalized the traditional culture. Therefore creativity comes from deep roots in tradition. Creative people are traditional and cutting edge.

This one made me stumble as little, as I don't consider myself traditional at all. The only way I can relate this one to myself as a writer is to look at it this way. I want to write stories that make people question their assumptions. To do this, I have to internalise their world view - the traditional culture of my society - once I've internalised it, I can deconstruct it within a story.

I think this one ties in to number 4.

9. Creative people are deeply passionate about their work, yet can be extremely detached and objective when discussing it.

Absolutely. I have to be passionate to write the book. Then I have to be objective to analyse what does and doesn't work. I think of first draft as right brain (creative) and second draft as left brain (analytical). (Leftbrain/rightbrain)

What this leads me to guess is that creative people are better as switching between different sides of their brain. I read somewhere that piano playing is goof for you because it forces the two sides of the brain to work in unison. Just throwing some theories out there.

10. Creative people are highly open and sensitive, which exposes them to pain and suffering, but also allows them to feel higher values of joy and happiness.

This is one of those 'of course' moments. As writers we feel very deeply. We mine those feelings for our characters and, even when suffering, we examine how we feel. I know this intensity leaves us open to greater pain, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

This post has been a bit of a ramble. Dr Mihaly Csikszentmikalyi's book looks interesting. There's a section on the domains of creativity and on enhancing creativity. How accurate did you find his list of 10 traits of creative people?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dog and Dragon... slowly

I've just finished my first run through DOG AND DRAGON, and it grew by 1500 words. I am just starting on B's corrections - which will improve it a lot and grow it by several thousand more. I'm suffering from the post-partum stages already. I know by tomorrow, or the day after, I'll think it sucks totally. At this stage I am still full of sheer emotional and mental exhaustion, and think at least parts the most brilliant thing written (yeah well, someone has to). I think part of the real downer that many authors go through is knowing that they have basically cut their wrists and bled onto the page, given what they can, to the point of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion... and off it goes - to be a minor midlist book which will get the TLC of the yet-another-book. I occassionally get e-mail from readers who tell me it was not just yet another book for them, and I think that's the reason I'll be doing this again, soon enough.

Is the publishing glass half full... or half empty? According to this there's some reason to believe that it is a bigger glass. Of course what this shows is the huge potential scope for growth of e-books - if 49% say they prefer traditional p-books then logic says 51% of UK readers would rather read e-books, and as 18% are... that's 200% growth just to fill that demand. I think e-readers will still drop in price and improve in quality, and that 49% is going to fall. No I don't believe the p-book is dead. But I can see purchases per reader dropping from say 10 per year to 1-2 per year -- not enough to sustain the publishing industry at status quo. And it's lovely to see fiction is coming up in demand. Cheap and entertaining I believe is the key here, myself. I think while males have been quicker adopt new tech (let's face it, playing with new mechanical toys is quite a boy thing) I reckon female usage will overtake it in a year or two - just as boys got mobiles while they were clutzy bricks, but once it was a good, easy-to-use communication tool, female use caught up and overtook. A good time to be writing fiction designed for female audiences IMO.

The price take is interesting: I'm with most folk who say a e-book CAN'T be more expensive than a p-book. No returns for starters (that's 45% of a publisher's costs), let alone the costs of paper etc. For a good wrap on this see Darryl Adam's post at Oz-E-books

So: food for thought.
And now, to red ink...(putting in corrections from B's edit)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is a book?

Back in January, I posed this question over on The Naked Truth. I thought it might be time to look at the question again, especially in light of Random House's decision to go with the agency model, the inquiries into whether or not the agency model is legal -- not only here but in Great Britain -- and Australia's decision that it is NOT legal (Way to, OZ!). So, with your indulgence, here's the post from January, with a few additional comments or edits.

What is a Book?

According to Jeffrey Matthews (vp for corporate strategy for Scholastic), “That’s the $64 million question.”

It is also a question the publishing industry — publishers and authors alike — can’t seem to agree upon. Ten years ago, it was easy to answer that question. A book was, well, a book. It was something you could walk into a bookstore or your public library and hold, take home and read. You bought a book you liked and read it, sometimes many times. You loaned it to your friends and family — often with threats of violence if they didn’t return it. You could sell it to used bookstores for a bit of pocket cash (of course, if you did and then someone else bought the book, the author didn’t get any more money from it).

Now it’s not quite so simple to answer that question. A number of publishers feel a book is still a book — that physical incarnation of an author’s words into print. Print being the operative word. E-books have thrown a wrench into the works and the industry simply hasn’t figured out how to respond. This includes publishers, agents and writers.

That’s one of the reasons we find so many publishers applying DRM to their e-books. Not understanding that doing so is like telling a recalcitrant child “no”, publishers say they have to apply DRM to their e-books to protect them from piracy. They don’t stop to think that that merely waves a red flag saying, “I bet you can’t find a way to break our code.” Guess what, that’s a challenge and what happens when you issue a challenge? It’s usually taken up. Don’t believe me, simply google “how to break DRM” and see how many hits you get and how many verified codes using Python and other programs there are.

DRM does something else. It adds to the cost of e-books. And, honestly, there will always be people out there who will post digital versions of books online for free. Their reasons vary. Some do it because, in their countries, the books may not be available in digital — and sometimes even in print — formats. Some do it because, as noted above, it’s a challenge and they hate being told they can’t do something. But digital piracy isn’t limited to books released in digital formats. If I remember correctly, the last Harry Potter book — none of which have been legitimately released as e-books — was online as a PDF e-book before the book hit the shelves. So, how did applying DRM to a digital file help prevent piracy?

But there is another reason people break DRM on e-books. A book that is "protected" by DRM is tied to a certain type of device. For example, if you by a DRM'd e-book through Amazon, it is tied to the kindle or kindle apps. It's the same with B&N and the nook, etc. But worse, there is a limit on how many compatible devices the e-book can be downloaded to. Say you have a family of three. Every one of them have a kindle and they have the kindle app for their laptops or smart phones, etc. That's at least 6 potential forms of tech that e-book can be read on. But, wait. There's a hitch. The publisher has limited the number of devices to 4. So Junior can't read that book on his smart phone because it is already registered to the maximum number of devices. That's like telling me I can only read a physical book in four of six rooms in my house. Sorry, but I bought it, I should be able to read it when and where I want -- and on whatever device I have with me at the time.

And this brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. What is a book?

This is a question those of us involved with Naked Reader Press asked ourselves long before we opened our digital doors. We’d seen interviews with publishers who hold that a book is only the physical incarnation of an author’s work. Under this definition, those of us who buy e-books aren’t buying the book. Instead, we are only buying a license to read the author’s work in a certain digital format. DRM is their way of enforcing this by preventing us from doing with digital books what we can with physical ones — loan them, sell them, donate them. Even so, these same publishers who are so adamant about limiting our access to these e-books — and if you don’t believe me, buy an e-book using Adobe Digital Editions and try to read it on a machine that isn’t tied to that specific Adobe account — are more than willing to charge us as much or more for the digital version than we’d pay for the paperback copy of the book.

Still, not all publishers feel this way. There are some like Baen Books who believe that, once you buy an e-book, it’s yours. They don’t apply DRM and don’t limit the number of e-readers or computers you can view the e-book on. To them, and to me, a book is made up of the words an author writes. A book can take many forms — physical paper versions, electronic, audio, enhanced, etc. A book is something meant to be enjoyed by readers in whatever form they are most comfortable with.

This divide in thinking may be narrowing. The Nook, and now the Kindle, allow lending of e-books (with publisher approval). Mind you, it’s limited to only being able to lend a book one time, for a period of two weeks. During that two week period, the original purchaser of the e-book cannot access it. There is the option being offered through these sellers for authors and small publishers to bring out their books DRM-free. Guess what, most of them choose no DRM. Why? Because they are selling BOOKS, not licenses.

But publishers are still trying to throw kinks in the works when it comes to e-books. Not too long ago, Harper Collins announced it was going to limit the number of times an e-book can be checked out by a library. According to HC, the magic number is 26. After that time, the title will no longer be available unless the library buys it again. Of course, HC says that it will be at a discounted price, but I'm not holding my breath. Besides, I have a several problems with HC's reasoning here. First, they say they came up with this magic number because this is the average number of checkouts a physical book goes through before it is pulled from the shelves. This ignores the fact that, if this is true, the library simply cleans and repairs the book and then puts it back into circulation. It's not removed unless it is lost or destroyed or beyond repair. My next issue is that I can just imagine how ticked I'd be if I happened to be number 27 on the wait list for that e-book, only to be told I couldn't check it out. Finally, publishers don't put a limit on the number of times a physical book can be checked out. All they are doing by limited e-books in this manner is once more saying they don't look at e-books as real books. (For more on this, check out this post and this one.)

So, what is a book? To me, a book is the collection of words, written by an author for readers to read in whatever format they like: hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, digital or enhanced. After all, why should it make a difference if the book is printed on paper or on your computer screen or smart phone? A book is a book is a book and it’s time the industry’s definition caught up with technology.

So, what is a book to you?

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I feel rather shallow writing something about my work when Japan has suffered the most awful of devastation. My thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people and I hope for any little miricles among that destruction.

We write about such events without, perhaps, grasping the the enormity and tragedy of them. Yet another Military sf novel destroys New York, or Tokyo... A fanasy hero destroys/saves entire continents etc. It's very hard to get our heads around the real implications of these things.

I've tried to avoid the blockbuster disaster... other than saving the universe a few times in Karres books. That's OK isn't it?

So I thought I'd tell you about what I have written

Basically - to give you a quick rundown of Dave's writing career -I wrote THE FORLORN sf self-standing book; the various RATS, BATS & VATS books - which are humorous mil sf/ social satire about uplifted rats and bats..., and the PYRAMID SCHEME books which are adventure/fun and humor set set by a SF maguffin in the worlds of mythology. The Heirs of Alaexandria books are Fantasy meets alternate history - Where the great library of Alexandria was not destroyed and magic still exists. The Karres books are sequels to James H Schmitz's classic WITCHES OF KARRES this is space opera, in the grand old tradition. And then there are DRAGON'S RING and DOG AND DRAGON -which are high fantasy if Ffarhad and the Grey Mouser are High Fantasy with a Loki-rouge dragon.
And then of course from Naked Reader... WITHOUT A TRACE - a MG story which is what you'd get if Willard Price had written sf.

And that right now... is that.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reconnecting with the Work

I haved tried to do something a little different over the last few months and set off into a new novel without much of the usual planning and pre-work.

The initial sprint lasted a little over three chapters. Then I sort of tanked. I had sketched a basic plot, and tried to get further into the story, but the pace was woeful. There was just something wrong - I could sense an unease with the work that was stopping me. Finally, after a couple of frustrating weeks, I decided to stop and really listen to that little warning voice and try to understand what was going on.

After a bit of belly-gazing, I realised that I had missed a crucial element of my own process. Since then I have gone back to the drawing board and pretty much returned to the same sort of approach I have used in the past.

Not that there was anything wrong with the writing itself on a craft level - it was surprisingly good considering the sprint - just that it was underpinned with an unease that I had perhaps failed to nail the essential essence of the thing and that I had not woven in enough complexity.

It looks like I really need to 'front end load' the story and characters before I can move through the story. I need to understand what is going on inside each of the characters at an emotional level. I need to do enough plotwork to have an instinctive sense for what is moving in the background of the story, for what threads are weaving in through the main action. I also need to have a fundamental confidence in the core concept - particularly if it is science fiction (which this one is). I love the 'wow' concepts, but there is enough engineer in me to need the things that surround that to be entirely credible.

Now I am a happy camper. I am back writing again and moving forward at my typical pace. I would have to say the off-the-cuff novel with little pre-work was probably an experimental failure for me, although it was a lot of fun at the beginning!

How about you? Can you set off happily into unknown territory?

Impale them All

(God knows his own)

While it's a reasonable bet that Vlad Dracula never actually used that particular phrase, it's a pretty good description of what could be called "pointer" fantasy violence. It's the rather more pointed version of the kick the puppy moment which less skilled writers use to show that the villain must be bad, because see? He kicked that poor, helpless puppy.

And yes, Vlad did impale a lot of people, and more than a few of them were alive when the stake treatment started. He also added a fair few refinements to the basic stake up the khyber routine to make his... ahem... point. (To be fair, it's more than feasible the added extras like rounding the end off and a heavy coating of grease were things he learned in the Ottoman Empire - they were rather enthusiastic proponents of impalement as a way of dealing with problems, themselves.) He also lined the roads with stakes as a way of informing people that they'd better behave themselves - something that seems to have been quite effective.

The thing is, it doesn't matter how much violence there actually is in a book, if it's not properly directed. If you're lopping off heads left, right and center, when you need to raise the stakes (so to speak), you don't actually have many places to go. Gushing arteries and painting the town in someone's blood tend to have that effect.

When I was writing Impaler, I aimed to keep all the on-screen violence (and most of the off-screen, for that matter) tightly focused. If it didn't matter, it didn't rate a mention. I don't think there's a single random act of violence, although there are a number of impalements (kind of hard to avoid them in a book about Vlad), several battles, and assorted instances of torture, bad temper, and - again, somewhat inevitable - impaling and generally despoiling enemy corpses (Yes, the equally inevitable graveyard humor surfaces. It wouldn't be true to the time or the people if it didn't).

How did I keep it from overloading the book and dripping off the pages, you ask (well, actually, no you don't, and yes, I know you're trying to sneak out the back door. Go on then, I'm not stopping you)? I used several techniques - none of them as blatant as the kick the puppy or pet the kitten cues that make me want to smack the author. Hard.

First there was context. You know, Vlad gets pissed, and he directs his - quite filthy - temper at an appropriate target. Appropriate in this case meaning someone he'd have had executed with just cause sooner or later, because even though in that place and time it was normal to beat several kinds of hell out of the servants when you had a hissy-fit, today's readers wouldn't accept it. Or he's got a recalcitrant spy to deal with (trust me, you don't want to know what's going through my mind when I'm writing torture scenes. Let's just say the writer-voodoo is strong in those times. Curiously enough, the target of that particular bit of writer-voodoo is no longer a co-worker). Or it's the middle of a battle and he's fighting as much to stop the other guys killing him as he is for any other reason.

Then there's one of my favorite tools, balancing and offsetting something that would normally be utterly horrific by describing it in a way that's got more dry humor than anything else. If you've ever sat with nurses or cops talking shop, you know the tone. I've naturally got a sarcastic streak wider than I am (which takes quite a bit of effort, what with the beached whale look), so this is a very easy technique for me to use - so easy I need to be careful not to overdo it. In Impaler, that wasn't helped by Vlad's voice being even more strongly sardonic than I am.

Yeah. I finally met someone who could out-snark me, and he's one of my characters. Only a writer.

Anyway, that kind of technique, along with focusing on a specific goal or impact, shifting up Vlad's perspective so he's not always in the middle of the violence (even though he'd much rather be in the thick of it than waiting to find out whether he won or not), and shifting to the next goal instead of the loving writer-closeup of the horror all served to keep the impact of the violence at the level I need it to be - which allowed me to ratchet up the tension a good ways for the climactic sequence.

You'll have to read the book to find out what I did - but I'm pleased with the end result. It still drags me in and doesn't let go until the final sentence. And if I can do that to myself, I have a slight hope of being able to do it to other people.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Popcorn and the Single Writer

Kevin J. Anderson uses a popcorn analogy to illustrate two methods that beginning writers can use to break into print.

One of them consists of writing a single novel and polishing it and perfecting it until it is the absolute best it can be. He compares this to putting a single grain in a pot with just the right amount of oil, at the right temperature and waiting till it pops to produce the perfect single kernel of popcorn.

While this can work, if the kernel you put in is a dud, or if the one novel you concentrate all your work on is unpublishable, for reasons having nothing to do with how well crafted it is (theme, market, events in the world that make your premiss untenable) you’re going to fail.

Then there’s the other method that I – and a lot of other people used – you throw some oil in a pot at as close to a perfect temperature as you can make it, and you heat it. A whole bunch of them are going to pop, even if you get a few duds. (This doesn’t mean by the way that we care less about each individual kernel... er... novel. And it doesn’t mean that in the middle of the “okay” kernels there won’t be one or two perfect ones. Possibly not the ones we expect.)

This approach, of course, takes its toll on the writer, but it has the opportunity for bringing the greater rewards.

What Kevin didn’t say is that for at least the last ten years and probably more, publishers have taken this approach to writers themselves. It used to be they carefully selected a writer and often invested considerable time and effort in helping him or her perfect the craft and improve. Perhaps there are still editors out there that do that. One or two of mine have been very good, but often work with limited time, because these days their job is not to help the writer progress, improve or even become more commercial. At best, if they’re interested in you, they give you a call and make suggestions. My friend Rebecca Lickiss, for instance, at one time got asked to write a “bigger” novel. But that was all the guidance she got.

Gone are the days of legendary editors shaping a house to their vision and keeping writers for years as long as they were paying their own way, trying to help that writer develop a following.

These days, and I think since publishers have been able to control every process of distribution and exposure a writer can get/have so that they could “comfortably manufacture bestsellers” at will, they have used the popcorn theory with authors.

Well, not quite, because they do have favorites. In the center of the pot, they would clear a little space and drop one or two little favored kernels they shepherded to the popping into bestsellerdom. The rest of the kernels were thrown in haphazardly, around the edges, where it might be too hot or too cold. And if they didn’t pop they got thrown away and other kernels thrown in.

This total absence of response to market signals – in fact, inability to get market signals – since what the system was rigged for was GIGO, that is to give you back what you put in, didn’t bother anyone, because those perfect kernels that popped meant great profits for the houses. Also, the smart ones were aware that the house giveth and the house taketh away and they would toe the line. The dumb ones... well, there were always replacements for those.

But now in the brave new world of electronic publishing, which will only grow faster as paper books grow more expensive – and for our friends across the pond, this is guaranteed as our price of energy is skyrocketing, thereby skyrocketing manufacturing and transport as well – anyone with a name, no matter how acquired has a great incentive to publish him or herself. As Dave Freer detailed in his Monday post, there is no real reason for bestsellers to go with mainstream publishers anymore, and sooner or later they’ll all realize it.

This means the popcorn theory of publishing is dead. Heaven alone knows how many publishing houses it will take with it.

To me this seems amazingly obvious, as it seems amazingly obvious that the only way for a publishing house to stay afloat and prosper is to establish a brand – a taste if you will. The only way for a publishing house to stay afloat is to return to the days of legendary editors, say a Hugo Gernsback or a John W. Campbell, who take authors in whom they find a glimmer of something that could be great and mold and shape them and help them find their audience.

The big ones will still escape – unless you really make sure your brand is a value added (and you might. I know people who read everything Baen publishes, for instance, just for the brand) – but by the time they escape they’ll have been writing for you for years and getting incrementally better. And those who aren’t total SOBs might even write for you, on the side, for years after they start a solo-publishing career, because they’re grateful for the help you gave them.

Why aren’t any of the businessmen in publishing houses seeing this? Have I made some huge mess in my reasoning? Because this has gone beyond “obvious” to “plain as the nose on your face.” I don’t understand how anyone can miss it, much less people whose livelihood depends on the current, soon to become toxic, model.

*crossposted at According To Hoyt and Classical Values*